|That's Chris. He's an Arlingtonian, bike commuter, and a nice guy.|
This is the second post
in my ongoing series of a couple more posts wherein I ride with people on their bike commutes and then remix my observations through the patented Tales From The Sharrows auto-tuner
, rendering their rides only vaguely recognizable, but immensely more congenial to fans with questionable taste in popular music. Or something like that. The reason I'm doing this, for those of you who don't normally read the blog, is because I lost an around-the-world bicycle race to Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association
and I didn't have the money to cover our gentleman's wager. So, I had to sell buttons
and my blogging services to avoid welching. I then concocted an elaborate (sort of?) lie about wanting to raise money for "charity" when what I was really trying to do was ward of WABA's goon squad. They don't break your wrists- they break your spokes. Anyway, one of my "dupes" was Chris. [Note: all of the previous was fabrication.] He was the first person to take me up on the I BLOG YOUR RIDE offer and I'm fairly certain that his inclination towards generosity really spurred others along. For this, I'm especially grateful.
Chris lives in Arlington, a little off of Columbia Pike, and we met at 7. He's an "early bird" commuter, though not as early as the many others I passed in near darkness as I worked my way from Armory West, down Independence (which should have a cycletrack), over the 14th street bridge and past the Pentagon. I guess the Pentagon starts work early too, since the parking lot was rather crowded. I arrived on time-ish (most likely in thanks to the coffee I managed to prepare and drink prior to leaving home. And the blood doping. Just kidding!) and Chris was outside waiting. It was still dark and it was cold. My feet were colder than those of a 13th century Hungarian princess (INSIDE JOKE: and by inside, I mean a reference that's pretty much only "funny" to me, Gabor Klaniczay
, and the hagiographer of St. Margit
). Chris said that he hadn't been doing too much riding this winter, especially on the colder days, but I don't blame him at all. It's pretty important to be comfortable and there's no need to "subject" yourself to anything in the name of getting to work.
We set off on our route, through quiet residential streets and over to the bike lanes on Walter Reed. The bike lanes turned to sharrows (turning bike lanes to sharrows was one of Jeebus' lesser known "miracles." It was purged from the gospels under the car-centric papacy of Innocent I. Probably) on the other side of Columbia Pike. Car traffic was light, but still there. I spent much of the time admiring Chris's bike set-up, which included things like a side-mirror, rear rack and panniers, cell phone holder, front and back lights, and fenders, the rear of which had reflective tape affixed to it. I've been meaning to do this to mine, but keep using up all my reflective tape in hilarious fraternity-style pranks, wherein I tape someone or something to a flagpole. Here's a picture of his bike, at rest. It's a solid commuter bike.
Chris also told me that he has a kid carrier that attaches to the front of the bike, just like Grant has. His little one is equally enamored with bike travel, so parents please take note. Bike your kids around. It's either that or whatever animated 3D cartoon crap is out in theaters this weekend- how many more unfunny sass-talking cartoon animals can you handle before you snap?
We passed the point of Chris' one and only bad car confrontation, which occurred when a driver came out of nowhere (see how I'm flipping the script?) and passed Chris within inches. While no contact was made, he wiped out and it sucked. You never quite forget the site of the bad wipe-outs. They're like wounds from Nazgul swords. The driver didn't stop. The incident didn't deter Chris from bike commuting and I think that's a good thing. Oh, I forgot to mention that he's been commuting by bike since March of this year. I didn't ask if TFTS played a role in his decision to ride, but let's just assume it did. (Note: this is almost certainly not the case.)
Walter Reed Drive , as many of you might know, as it approaches Four Mile Run and the W & OD Trail, had a gigantic, terrifyingly steep descent (ascent of your coming to other way). It's roughly (est.) a 8,234 foot drop. And we bombed it. It was kind of awesome. I asked Chris is he took the same route home and climbs that sucker daily. He said yes, but that it took a while to be able to do it. I applaud his persistence. I probably would have sought an alternate route (maybe helicopter?), namely one that takes me any other way. I asked him if he's ever passed anyone while going up the hill. He said no. I think he meant "not yet." It'll happen and it'll be the most awesome thing ever.
A few other bicyclists on the W & OD and then it was under the highway (Chris told me about the recent hullabaloo concerning the replacement of the lights in the underpass and the jurisdictional problems associated with it. Basically, if the question is how many local and state agencies does it take to replace some burnt out lights in an underpass of state controlled highway near or at the border of two municipalities, the answer is [you might just want to get brighter lights for the front of your bike]) and then along Glebe.
We passed an older gentleman riding in the other direction in what I think was a purple puffy coat. Chris said that this was the only person he regularly saw on his ride. Chris made a point of saying hello. I think that's a pretty good idea. Commuting at non-peak times has a solitariness to it that I can kind of relate to, given my non-peak (whatever that means) route against the flow of downtown-heading traffic. Plus there's no reason not to be friendly to other bike commuters. They're good people. Unlike pogo-commuters. Jerks.
We temporarily looped off of Four Mile Run onto Mount Vernon Avenue, but picked it up on the other side of the run, the side opposite the water processing plant. I'd never taken this route before. Chris learned about it when another bike commuter whom he had previously passed ended up in front him on Commonwealth Drive, as he took the longer way that required him to briefly ride next to Confederate Traitor Highway to cross the stream. The path was rather bucolic, passing softball diamonds and wooded groves and culminated in our arrival at the back entrance of the Toyota dealership where I got my car's oil changed last month. Like I said, bucolic. More importantly, though, it was direct and it put us on Commonwealth, which would take us the rest of the way there.
Commonwealth has bike lanes for a stretch and sharrows for a bit and then bike lanes again until the sharrows come back. I guess it's not wide enough for bike lanes the whole way, which is a pity. By this time, other bike commuters had roused and most were heading in the opposite direction. It was good to see so many people out, on a day that was turning into one with beautiful weather.
As we rode through and around Del Ray, Chris told me how on nice days, the whole neighborhoods turns into something like an episode of Leave It To Beaver
, with kids and parents walking and bike home from school. Not so much this morning, but I could definitely see how that'd be the case. The area is relatively dense and the bike lanes seemed accommodating, notwithstanding the some drivers who couldn't quite manage to keep their speed below the posted limit. Must be a technical issue with the car, but I'm not an engineer.
I always wondered what the Arlington to Alexandria bike commute was like, having down the Arlington to DC route for a couple of years. I rather enjoyed it. Commonwealth seems like a direct route to Old Town and not one that I'd ever taken before. It also seems way more convenient than the Mount Vernon Trail, especially if you're heading into the west side of Old Town.
Chris's office is near the King Street metro. He's permitted to park his bike in the parking garage, though there are no "real" bike racks inside. Nonetheless, it's still indoors and secure and vastly better than leaving the bike on the street. We grabbed some coffee at the Dunkin Donuts across the way and I continued my peppering barrage of annoying bike commuting related questions, as is my wont/compulsion. I asked Chris if anyone else in his office (a smallish company of 35 or so employees) commutes by bike and he said not really. I asked him if he got any of the "BIKE COMMUTING IS SO DANGEROUS, OMG, RIGHT?!?" questions/comments from his coworkers and he said no. I find that heartening. I asked him how he got into the whole commute by bike thing and he told me how he's been on a long and steady health improvement/weight loss plan (one that involved competition with the winner, he who loses the most weight, winning money) and that bike commuting was something that came about afterwards, as a way to cram in a little bit of exercise in time through something (getting to and from work) that he'd be doing anyway. I asked him if he used his bike to run errands and he said that he did. I yammered about a bunch of stuff too, none of it consequential and much of it, I'm sure, platitudinous.
It was 8 and it was time to go. I had a great time and very much enjoyed meeting and riding with Chris. I'd once again like to thank him for his donation to WABA and wish him the best of luck in continuing his bike commuting.